Summer Break: Refilling the Muse

For various reasons, I don’t spend much time writing during the summer. To be more accurate, I don’t spend any time writing during the summer. That doesn’t mean I’m not being creative or productive, though.

I am refilling my muse.

To me, writing is an indoor sport, something to be done when it’s cold and dark and rainy outside. A winter sport. During the summer, I spend time outdoors, often traveling by motorcycle or sleeping in a tent next to a stream. Scenery is my muse. Visiting small towns and meeting new people is my muse. Zooming along a narrow winding road as it follows the curving contours of a mountain river is my muse.

This summer in particular, I have added Dungeons & Dragons to my creative fuel tank. I have been the Dungeon Master for a group of eight players that meet once a week to seek adventure. I have designed a campaign that will last several months and is intended to play-test a plot idea for my next book. I am allowing the dynamics of an active D&D adventure to provide inspiration. So far it has been productive. I am learning what aspects of my plot will work well in a book, and what parts of the game must remain part of the RPG itself.

Every author has their own voice.

The Taesian Chronicles has been available for several months now and I continue to get feedback from readers. Although all of it has been very positive and encouraging, I have learned there is a reason why there are 31 flavors at the ice cream shop. My take-away from this experience is that my original intention of writing a book I would want to read is the best approach as an author. Every author has their own voice. If I write to please my audience, I will be traveling away from my genuine self and the story will suffer for it.

Technically flawed but creatively interesting?

I am perplexed. I’ve been reading works by several other recently successful new authors and I’m noticing a trend. Their stories are technically flawed yet they are demonstrating surprising levels of interest and enthusiasm from their readers. All the books and articles I read about what constitutes good writing are fairly clear and consistent in their message. Show the reader, don’t tell them; avoid excessive hyperbole; etc.

The stories I’m reading fly in the face of those Good Writing Maxims. I won’t name names because I’m truly happy that these authors have landed publishing deals. I’m even happier for them that their books are doing well. Ultimately that’s what makes a good book: people enjoy it and show that support with their pocketbooks.

In my own effort to write and refine Ohlen’s Arrow — and ultimately my goal to get it published — I have spent a great deal of effort and time following the rules of what constitutes good writing. After reading other works, I’ve also gone back and made sure my characters were interesting. Something can be technically flawless but if it’s not interesting, who cares?

Consider a musical analogy: Credence Clearwater Revival. They were, and still are, a hugely popular band yet their musical chops are rudimentary at best.

As a reader, can you overlook technically flawed writing if the characters and situations are unusual and interesting? Or can that get in the way, preventing it from being what would otherwise be a good book?

Review: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

by Philip Athans and R. A. Salvatore, 2010

$9.99 (iTunes bookstore) or $11 (paperback from Amazon.com)

When writing a fantasy novel, coming up with a great story is only part of the equation. You could say that’s the roast beef of the meal, but there’s a lot of mashed potatoes and green beans that still need to go with it. If you want to know how to cook the whole meal, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, by Philip Athans and R. A. Salvatore, is a great cookbook to read.

I purchased the $9.99 electronic edition from the iTunes Bookstore and read it on my iPad. The chapters follow a linear path through the process of writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, from how to come up with ideas to getting it published. The book specifically covers the business and marketing aspect of getting your book published, which is the primary reason I bought it. Athans and Salvatore don’t pull punches when it comes to letting the reader know their chances of making money as an author. That honesty is exactly what aspiring authors need.

There are a lot of books that can help you improve the mechanics of your writing. Writing Worth Reading by Nancy Huddleston Packer (which I’ll review later) is an outstanding example. There are even some books available that focus on getting published. This book, however, is a concise source of both. Consider it a crash course on the gamut of writing and publishing your first fantasy or science fiction novel.

This book is worth far more than the purchase price, making it an outstanding value to beginning novelists like me.